The saddest aspect of life right now is that science gathers knowledge faster than society gathers wisdom. - Isaac Asimov, scientist and writer (1920-1992)

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Internet Dating & Marriage Scams - how to avoid them

In the last four years I have seen numerous cases of this already classical Internet scam, obviously after they took place and there was little or nothing to do to reverse the financial damage on the victims. Basically, a Western guy meets an Eastern woman on Internet chat or dating services, they develop a relationship over the Internet and in some cases even meeting in real life, then he sends her large amounts of money and the girl eventually disappears. Are there chances of legal action success? What precautions should be taken?

Trust grows while the digital relationship evolves over months and even years. While the discussions go on, the theme of hard life, poverty and financial problems in the girl's family is gradually introduced, together with her wish to escape these problems. The most commonly met scenarios involve the guy coming to live in Romania, and in rare cases that of her leaving Romania to live somewhere else.

At some point, since the psychological involvement in her problems has grown - the guy offers to send her some money to help her solve a particular problem. This is the real start of the whole scam. Over the next months new small or increased amounts of money are sent in good faith for helping her and her family.

In some cases the guy even visits Romania and meets her and her family, all the things becoming more real and doubts about the girl's intention disappear.

Eventually, the idea of lending her money or sending her large amounts for the purpose of buying a flat or house or a piece of land appears and the money are sent in the end. Usually, this is the phase in which the girl disappears with the money.

I have seen cases with total loss ranging from 15.000 Euros to 87.000 British Pounds and the duration spanning between 1 to 3 or even 4 years of digital relationship.

There is little that can be done in such cases from the legal point of view and chances of legal action success depend largely on the evidence worthy of trust in court. This is usually the part where the guy mistakenly believes that he is able to sue her if something goes wrong, simply because legal provisions are different from his country to those in Romania. Especially when we deal with digital evidence.

The difficulties come from a wide range of legal mostly referring to evidence:

  • Electronic evidence: Usually, evidence of such a relationship rely mostly on electronic evidence such as emails or Instant Messaging logs - in what degree can they be certified as true? was there at the other end, the intended person communicating? or was someone else pretending?
    Romanian laws require proper procedures for gathering electronic evidence. Simply printing the logs may not always be sufficient. Professional assistance is required here. 
  • In the same time, in most cases, there are no persons on the guy's side that can testify about the relationship. 
  • Bank statements or Western Union statements are helpful - most often in finding a person or proving that money was sent. But only that.
  • Pictures of both persons together may be proof that the two have met
  • The hardest to gather is the evidence of the agreement between the two on buying a property that should, in the end, belong to both and that one party's expectations were deceived. You need strong proof for that. 
Without clear evidence about the real intentions for sending the money, the woman can easily claim in court that there was a charitable act involved.

DISCLAIMER: This article is not intended to discourage international marriage and relationships. Far from it. It is intended to indicate that there may be proper legal ways of proceeding.
  • If there is money for buying a property here - sure there is money for a trip to buy it in person, even if you both go to the notary and make the purchase.
  • If there is the intention to lend large sums - it is best to make sure you make a notarized money loaning contract and that you have legal assistance on the matter.
Evidence is key and professional legal assistance is advisable.

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